Slaughterhouse Five Quotations #3

“The visitor from outer space made a serious study of Christianity, to learn, if he could, why Christians found it so easy to be cruel. He concluded that at least part of the trouble was slipshod storytelling in the New Testament. He supposed that the intent of the Gospels was to teach people, among other things, to be merciful, even to the lowest of low.

“But the Gospels actually taught this: Before you kill somebody, make absolutely sure he isn’t well connected. 

“The flaw in the Christ stories, said the visitor from outer space, was that Christ who didn’t look like much, was actually the Son of the Most Powerful Being in the Universe. Readers understood that, so, when they came to the crucifixion, they naturally thought, and Rosewater read out loud again: Oh, boy — they sure picked the wrong guy to lynch that time!

“And that thought had a brother: ‘There are right people to lynch.’ Who? People not well connected. So it goes.” (108-109)

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Book Review | Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed

This book, all in all, still rings true a decade after it was published, which is a haunting fact. Collapse is an environmental book, though you wouldn’t know it from the title. Diamond surveys several past and modern societies, including Easter Island, Norse Greenland, Papua New Guinea, Japan, China, and Montana. In each, he examines how their proximate causes of collapse were all, ultimately, environmental degradation for one reason or another.

Now, as someone who is remarkably up-to-date on all things environmental, much of this book made me go “Duh!” However, for people not so up-to-date on environmental statistics or causes of environmental destruction, this book would make a lovely introduction to the subject. It also makes a persuasive case that environmental problems are, in fact, real for any global warming deniers out there. So, if you don’t believe in global warming, or if you do but have never really understood or cared to learn why these things are happening, Diamond will explain these things to you in a compelling narrative.

For those of us well-read in the problems of our modern environment, this book, redundant as it may be, is still quite fascinating. The broad spectrum of former and present societies that Diamond explores is what makes this book more than just an introduction to the causes of our current environmental issues. For us, though this is clearly an environmental book, it is also a history lesson. Have you ever wanted a crash course in the history of Easter Island? Tikopia? The Viking expansion to Greenland? Have you ever yearned to learn about the Rwandan genocide, Papua New Guinea, or Southwest Montana? Well, look no further. Jared Diamond paints a clear picture of the relationship between history and environmentalism. The way he explains the collapses of each of the societies is very political and anthropocentric, but all the while the link to that political and cultural history is rooted in the facts of environmental destruction. So, even for those of us who would say “Duh!” when he explains why deforestation will negatively affect both the environment and out economy, the crash courses in the histories of small and disparate societies still keep is engaging and fresh.

Some of his arguments are rather flimsy (such as his argument that the Rwandan genocide was directly caused by overpopulation and famine), but most of his arguments are solid and stand alone. So, ultimately, I would recommend this book to anyone interested in learning about the relationship between history and the environment.

However well researched and well written this book may be, and however optimistically Diamond tried to portray is book, this book should haunt all who read it today. The fact is that his arguments about modern society are still 100% accurate. Not one thing has changed in our cultural opinion or attitude towards our environmental problems. Not one thing has changed in policy that is strong enough to actually halt the environmental forces bearing down on us. Ultimately, the First World is not willing to give up it’s conveniences and high standard of living for the good of the future of humanity. And ultimately, the Third World is not willing to give up aspiring to the same standard of living as the First World. This book rings as true in 2015 as it did in 2005, and that is a scary thought.

Why “Jealous” by Nick Jonas is Such an Awful Song

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Pop music is my (not so) guilty pleasure. That being said, I’m completely aware that the pop being produced today is terrible music. The lyrics are unimaginative and shallow; the melodies and chord progressions are formulaic and unoriginal; and the vocalists themselves almost universally lack talent. However, I’m capable of overlooking these glaring faults because the music just makes me want to dance and have fun.

But “Jealous” by Nick Jonas is just not a song for which I can overlook the numerous faults. There’s a simple reason for this: “Jealous” is a misnomer. The feeling Jonas describes throughout the song is not jealousy at all, it’s the feeling of being threatened, it’s fear.

Jealousy is an emotion one feels when they want something they can’t have. Jonas already has the girl, but he claims to be jealous because other guys are looking at his girl. So, in essence, he’s jealous of an imaginary relationship. I suppose some people would argue that you can be jealous of a fantasy, but I disagree. The people in Jonas’ song that are jealous are the boys looking at his girl wishing she was theirs. Jonas, in fact, is the only person in the song who isn’t jealous. He should re-title the song “Threatened,” because that’s what he’s feeling. He’s protective and insecure, not jealous.

Plenty of other pop songs come out every year that have this simple fault as well. Another example would be “Classic” by MKTO; is the girl classic or is she timeless? Those two words mean incredibly different things, though many fail to recognize it.

So, although I can overlook the majority of flaws inherent to pop music, I simply cannot stand to listen to songs that misuse the English language. If you’re too incompetent to write good lyrics, at least make sure you know the meaning of the ones you do write.

The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Book 10 and 11 | Impressions

9780451531513What can I say about Victor Hugo’s ending to The Hunchback of Notre Dame? Well, I could say a lot, but I’m not interested in that. I will say that I found the ending pleasant. Obviously, the ending is dark, and depressing, and even violent, but it is French literature after all. Even though the ending was overwrought and nearly a cliche, I liked it because it was cyclical. The cliche of dust to dust is remarkably overused in literature, but here it made sense. It didn’t make me feel gross or make me roll my eyes; it was the perfect closure to this story for a reason that I will need to explore further. Nonetheless, I closed the book after having read the last pages and felt satisfied. I wasn’t sad that it was ending, like I am for many books. I wasn’t upset with the ending, nor did I think the ending was boring. It truly was an ending, which I find to be rare; it’s infrequent that I finish a novel and feel that the story the author was telling came to close. So Hugo, bravo! You said what you had to say and finished it without contradicting the message of the book, without leaving the reader feeling like more is to come, and without giving up on the story. I commend you for it, and I find that this must be why you were a literary success.

Overall, even with all the ups-and-downs throughout my reading of it, I liked the book. I would not recommend this to everyone. It is not a universal must-read, but for some it will be.

Next, on my mission to read 60 classic novels by the time I’m thirty years on, I will be reading Light in August by William Faulkner. Faulkner is a favorite of my mine, so I am excited to return to his prose style for a refreshing, literary cleanse.

The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Book 8+9 | Impressions

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I don’t have all too much to say about these past two Books, but I wanted to post my thoughts before I begin reading Book 10, the longest Book in the novel.

Book 8 consisted solely of the trial of Esmeralda but ended with the iconic scene in which Quasimodo rescues Esmeralda from her execution. This was the scene of primary interest for me. Hugo paints Quasimodo in this ending to be the representation of God. You can tell from all the descriptions of him; he is “like a raindrop rolling down a pane of glass,” (p. 344) which is a classic biblical archetype from Genesis representing rebirth and new life. He has a “thundering” voice, “which was heard so rarely,” (346) which is an apparent parallel to God. He inspires awe from the crowd, who “regrett[ed] that he had so quickly withdrawn himself from their acclamations.” (345) He is the protector of Notre Dame, where “all human justice expires.” (345), and then Hugo makes the image inescapable from the readers’ eye when “all that royal strength” used to entrap Esmeralda is “broken with God’s strength” (345) by Quasimodo. God will protect, God will save the innocent, God will use his superhuman strength, God will inspire awe from the peoples, and God will be mysterious, and God will remain above earthly law. It’s an unavoidable illustration that Hugo has drawn for us.

This idea, which so captured my attention at the end of Book 8, continues through Book 9 as Quasimodo watches over Esmeralda in Notre Dame. However, here it is not so obvious. In fact, the image may have completely been cast away at this point, but the idea stuck with me. So, I tried to discern Hugo’s opinion of God from his descriptions of Quasimodo. Hugo’s God is a human one, I believe. Yes, he possesses all the qualities that the Christian church teaches, such as omnipotence and mercy. This is demonstrated obviously through Quasimodo’s inherent strength as well as his desire to please. He gives Esmeralda his own meals and bed; his voice is “so raucous yet so gentle.” However, Hugo’s God feels things like a human does. He feels acute loneliness, but that same melancholy and sorrow “reconcile…his ugliness” (363) for the world. It is his pain that makes him merciful, and so it is beautiful. He is deaf and partially blind to the world but still understands how it works at its most fundamental. The world has abandoned and forgotten Quasimodo, just as people forget and abandon the scripture, its teachings, and their morals everyday.

Perhaps some of you will think I’m stretching here, looking for connections where there aren’t, but to me this comparison is perfectly evident. As I go on to read Book 10, I will be eager to explore this theory more.

The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Book 7 | Impressions

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Alright, I think I’m finally a Hugo fan. I’m still hesitant, waiting for my expectations to crash and burn again, but I think it’s finally happened. Now that we’re in the thick of the book, his writing is compelling, insightful, and acute. His tangents are far less flowery and actually reveal critical insights into the zeitgeist of 14th century Paris.

My only immediate critique is that he is still quite verbose. I did say he is less flowery, which he is. By “flowery,” I simply mean that he doesn’t extend into unnecessary description. He still remains as wordy as ever though. He loves to show off his knowledge of Latin, Greek, and Hebrew, as well as his flair for words that are over five syllables. However, I don’t want to put too much stock into this observation. I probably just have a poor translation of the book. Perhaps in French his word choice is actually quite concise. So, I will stop beating him up for this and instead will place the blame on the translator, Walter J. Cobb.

Book 7 was everything French literature promises. You could cut the sexual tension with a knife. Plus, it had all the scandal of the Church. Yet, at the same time, his narrative remained unique and interesting. It wasn’t an “Oh, these French sex fiends again!” moment. He took what is inherently French, made considerable observations about these attributes, and spun the themes in a fresh way. It seems quite impressive at the moment. Given, I haven’t read much French literature, nor have I truly had time to explore and analyze the text. Still, I praise Hugo for his mastery of this prose. Bravo! I am eager to read on.

The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Book 6 | Impressions

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How delightfully refreshing were these thirty-nine pages of Book 6. I’ve been hounding Hugo for how little of the first half of the novel has been relevant, which hasn’t been entirely fair. I still stand by my belief that most of it could be tossed, but that makes me sound like I think everything has to be plot-driven in a novel. I certainly don’t believe that. Many pages and pages in some of favorite books have been spent telling tales that have little or nothing to do with the plot. Russian authors, in particular, are quite fond of this habit. Anna Karenina by Tolstoy, Diary of a Madman and Brothers Karamazov by Dostoevsky, Candide by Voltaire, and many more spend whole chunks of the book devoted to describing the fashionable beliefs, attitudes, and behaviors of a particular class, region, and/or community. These portions of the book are often my favorite because they reveal something greater than a story; they become primary historical sources, revealing what a certain populace was like in a way that no archeological dig or textbook could ever reveal.

Book 6 of The Hunchback of Notre Dame did just this, finally. The conversation between the three “gossips” of Paris and their interaction with the recluse was a historical snapshot. We all know people like this, but what are the subtle differences from century to century? From city to city? What do these people value and what don’t they? Hugo answers all these questions in this Book.

Not only does he do this, but he does so in an engaging, intriguing way. He gives us a bit of humor, a dash of mystery, and a sprinkle of satire. PLUS, it pushes the plot along. Well, not quite, it’s still back story for our central characters, but it feels after all this time as if the plot is moving again. We see the unknown connections between Quasimodo and Esmeralda, and the Book ends with actual plot movement. Esmeralda saves Quasimodo from ridicule and torture. Something happened! Yay! After the tantalizing back story we heard about Esmeralda’s mother, the recluse, and her connection with Quasimodo’s orphanage, this little bit of true plot was the icing on the cake.

I thoroughly enjoyed this chapter in every way possible. This chapter proved to me why Hugo was given such renown during his time. It will take a lot more of this to sway me to believe that he deserved all that renown, but now I know why he had any in the first place. He’s not just a pretentious, over-educated, wannabe-philosopher. He actually has some real talent. I am excited to see more of this, but am keeping my expectations low lest I be disappointed.

The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Books 4 and 5 | Musings

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I’m writing about Books 4 and 5 together because they’re each only twenty-five pages long. However, I will mostly focus on Book 5 because it’s a much more interesting chapter.

Book 4 gave me, finally, a glimpse into Quasimodo and Frollo. These two characters, though especially Frollo, were hardly touched upon in the first one hundred and sixty pages of the novel. However, all Hugo has yet given me about them were their back stories, which while necessary has been a long time coming. I feel that this could have been done near the beginning of the book or as needed along the journey, but Hugo chose neither. So, I am grateful to finally read about their characters, but again dismayed by the lack of movement in the plot.

Book 5 presented some more background information about Frollo, but was primarily focused on the philosophical musings about the progression of architecture in modern human history. I went about reading this section differently than I’ve read the novel thus far. I love architecture; it’s a hobby of mine, and I considered pursuing it as a career for some years in high school. However, I chose not to do so for several reasons, the biggest being that most architects today don’t get to be Frank Gehry. Most architects today build suburban developments, which just didn’t interest me. So, I went about reading Hugo’s meditation on architecture like I would read any book on architecture. I read it as an architecture geek, not as the literature geek.

Hugo used The Hunchback of Notre Dame as a means of reflecting on the whispering fancies of his mind. So, he took fifteen pages of the book to discuss the question of how the invention of the printing press affected architecture. His thesis was essentially that the written word destroyed the architectural statement, which reflects humanity’s desire to leave their mark on the world for the following generations.

I tend to agree with most of his observations, such as “To destroy the written word, you need only a torch and a Turk. To demolish the constructed word, you need a social revolution or an earthquake,” (p. 178) and “When put into print, thought is more imperishable as ever; it is volatile, intangible, indestructible; it mingles with the air. In the time of architecture, it became a mountain, and made itself the master of a century and a region. Now it has been transformed into a flock of birds, scattering to the four winds and filling all air and space.” (p. 178) But most importantly, “The press, that giant engine, incessantly gorging all the intellectual sap of society, incessantly vomits new material for its work.” (p. 184) However, I certainly agree with his thesis. I agreed with it from the moment he said it. His analysis left me wanting. Although, I won’t go into that here.

I agree with his thesis because of what I know of history, especially in the recent history of the 20th and 21st centuries. Look at what “architecture” has become! It’s the reason I didn’t pursue a career in it; it’s dead. Building stand alone homes with vinyl siding and shingled roofs is not interesting or creative. Building skyscrapers across the globe in vibrant cultural capitals has even become boring because all anybody wants is to make it look “sleek and modern” with glass, white, and silver. All anybody wants to do these days with their buildings is wipe away their individuality, their unique culture and beliefs. People want to use buildings to conform. So, unless you’re wildly successful like Frank Gehry, being an architect requires strikingly little creativity.

This idea contradicts my last post, where I agreed with Hugo that architecture is not “the outcome of a particular genius.” I feel that is what architecture has become in the recent decades. The reason I agreed was because of La Sagrada Familia, but that is a building designed mostly by a particular genius. The only reason it reflects the changing aesthetics is because it’s been being built throughout two centuries. Buildings today aren’t like that. Buildings today are built in a handful of years, so they can be the product of a particular genius.

I also find his point that writing is an inharmonious art particularly poignant today. He writes of how easy it is to create a book, to write. It’s so easy that anyone can do it, and it doesn’t require the collective effort of a community. Architecture, which required people from all classes and walks of life, created harmony because it represented a whole generation of people. Everyone had their piece of the building; in architecture “every individual work, however capricious or isolated it may seem, has its place and projection.” (p. 184). That changed with the advent of the printing press. Anyone could throw their thoughts down for the world without regard to what anyone else thinks, believes, or feels. Today, with ebooks, and self-publishing, and the publishing industry being profit-driven, the world has been flooded with millions of different ideas, hardly any of which matter. We simply produce more and more with less and less regard for quality.

Writing killed architecture because it was so much easier in every way. However, writing has gone and killed free thought, merit, and quality. Messages are nonexistent in most books today because we don’t care to leave one. All we care about is whether the books sells. If the book sells, who cares what your legacy is? Who cares if it’s any good? Who even cares if the story betters the world or is unique? Very few people care. Incredibly few.

So, ultimately I agree with Hugo. Writing killed architecture. I see that. I also see a reason I appreciate architecture so much; it took time to make, lots of forethought, and a whole community of people to make it. A book is one person, a cathedral is many. Architecture used to mean something, as did writing. Now both are lost to this brave new world.